Evolution of the Yellow River Delta and its relationship with runoff and sediment load from 1983 to 2011

Alistair Borthwick, Dongxian Kong, Chiyuan Miao, Chingyun Duan, Hao Liu, Qiaohong Sun, Aizhong Ye, Zhenhua Di, Wei Gong

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Long-term data from a hydrological monitoring station and remotely-sensed satellite images were used to explore the effects of runoff and suspended sediment load on evolution of the Yellow River Delta (YRD) from 1983 to 2011. During this period, an average runoff of 18 x 10^9 m3 yr1 and an average sediment load of 341 x 10^6 t yr1 flowed through the delta lobes into the sea. The runoff and sediment load exhibited downward trends with time, along with large inter-annual fluctuations. Three stages were evident in the data. From 1983 to the late 1990s, the Yellow River experienced progressively severe droughts which reduced both runoff and sediment load to its delta lobe. The delta nevertheless grew to a peak area of about 3950 km2 in 2000. From 2000 to 2003, the YRD area decreased. Meanwhile, the operation of the dam at Xiaolangdi and changes in water consumption driven by a new regulatory framework helped stabilize the runoff. Although the sediment load continued to decline, partly due to sediment check dams along the middle Yellow River and the reduced sediment carrying capacity of the river, the YRD area nevertheless increased between 2003 and 2011. The variations in runoff and sediment load directly influenced changes to the plan-form area, shoreline migration, and morphology of the YRD. From 1983 to 2011, the net land area of the delta increased by 248 km2, its coastline extended by 36.45 km, and its shape became increasingly irregular due to the emergence of its delta lobes. In 1996, an artificial diversion altered the position of the main delta lobe from Qingshuigou to Qing 8. A stepwise multiple regression analysis indicated that the YRD would have required average sediment loads of about 441x 10^6 t yr-1 before 1996 and 159 x 10^6 t yr-1 after 1996 to maintain equilibrium.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-167
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • delta, Yellow River, climate change, human activity


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